Positive Strategies for Disciplining Children With Autism

by Alison LaFortune

Children with autism frequently have difficulty controlling their actions, which can get them into trouble at home and in school. In order to reinforce good behavior, teachers and parents of autistic children need to focus on the positive and respond to their need for structure. If autistic children are not respecting authority, or need to work on their behavior, parents and teachers need to take an approach that works specifically for children with sensory issues.

Behaving in an Inclusive Classroom

According to AutismFieldWork.com, autistic children have a "tendency toward self-centeredness." That is, they often have a hard time understanding and valuing others' needs. This can be difficult in a classroom, where certain behaviors, such as waiting patiently to be called on, are expected. In a "regular" classroom, one that has children of varied abilities, the challenge for an autistic child is to learn to fit in with the other students. His goal is to learn appropriate social responses that come naturally to the other students. Parents and teachers can help with this process.

Contract for Behavior

If the student struggles with maintaining appropriate behavior in a regular classroom, she can work with a behavior goal contract. Such a contract would outline certain actions and responses that she struggles to control in everyday life. She might need to work on how she reacts to other children or how to respond when she doesn't get her way. The rules of the contract need to be clearly stated in a literal way and understood by the child.

Reward System

Once the child begins to follow the contract, he needs a solid reward system for motivation. Autistic children are often not encouraged by an extrinsic value system, like wanting to please someone else. They respond better to concrete rewards, such as getting time to do an activity they enjoy. Parents and teachers can work together to design rewards that are specifically motivating for the particular child.

Developmental Age

When creating a behavior plan for an autistic child, teachers and parents need to keep in mind the child's developmental age, rather than their educational age. An autistic child may be in a third grade classroom, but may be at a lower development level. Expectations need to be appropriately tailored to the child's abilities. Consistency is key with any discipline plan, and autistic children respond best when they can easily predict consequences to their actions. With practice and solid reinforcement, children with autism can learn what is expected of them in everyday situations.

About the Author

Alison LaFortune specializes in articles on education and parenting. She has a Bachelor of Science in elementary education, and taught seventh grade science and language arts for five years.

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